Is “picture-in-picture” dead?

OK, there’s one avid reader of this blog who will shout “No!” But let’s put that aside for a moment. There was a time when we all wanted TVs with picture-in-picture. Watch two shows at the same time, we were told. And the feature started to become popular in the late 2000s. It was built into TVs and satellite boxes. And then, lately, I’ve noticed it’s gone “poof.”

A lot of high-end TVs no longer have PIP built in. DIRECTV still uses it in its Genie, and certainly the Hopper 3’s Sports Bar mode is the most awesome application of PIP that I’ve seen in a consumer unit. But looking past that, it really seems like PIP is just another feature that’s being cut out of TVs because people aren’t willing to pay for it, like SD connections and high-gain over-the-air tuners. The TV business is vicious… a few dollars in manufacturing cost can make the difference between a successful TV and one that never sells. Most TVs have really excellent video quality and sound bars are cheap enough to compensate for really lousy audio from low quality TVs, so it comes down to price. And if something isn’t worth engineering in there, it’s going to get dropped.

I’ve had a number of off-the-record conversations with people in consumer electronics companies in the last 6 months. All asked not to be named or quoted, and I won’t name or quote them. What I will tell you is that none of them brought up PIP as an exciting feature of new TVs. Some hedged when asked if PIP had a future in their equipment. A few asked “does anyone ever use that?”

…and I think that really says a lot. When you look at PIP, I think you have to look at 3D, which manufacturers all thought would be a big differentiator in luxury TVs. A lot of engineering time went into creating high-end 3D TVs with fast refresh rates, and people just didn’t buy them. A lot of money went into engineering those glasses and the technology to autoconvert 2D to 3D on the fly, and no one used any of it. I think this was a real turning point for an industry that had enjoyed a decade of growth based on people wanting the latest and greatest stuff. They realized that price was a big driver now that people are satisfied with quality, and extra features weren’t going to be a big draw.

So is PIP dead? Let me know what you think. As for me, I thought back and I use it maybe once a year. I don’t think I’d really care if it went away.